We just returned from a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise on the Ryndam, March 17-24, and had a great time! This was our 8th cruise (5 HAL, 3 Celebrity) and we have never had better service than on the Ryndam.
We flew in a day early and stayed at the Tampa Marriott Waterfront. The hotel was gorgeous. They had everything you could possibly want, including a fitness center and an excellent breakfast buffet. The location just half a mile from the cruise port was great, although driving in the area was a bit of hassle at night because so many downtown streets were blocked off for events. I was disappointed that the hotel failed to provide the medical refrigerator I had requested for a member of our party. Also, my in-laws had to deal with several staff members who didn't seem interested in helping them unless they were tipped. I would recommend this beautiful hotel due to its location, amenities, and ambience, but the service could be better.
We boarded the Ryndam about noon, and rooms were available immediately. Our room was a verandah cabin, well maintained but showing some age. The verandah was the smallest we've ever had. The safe was barely large enough for my iPad; it would not have held a laptop. There were holes in the bathroom wall where a shelf should have been. The shower wouldn't turn on simply by pushing the button, it had to be punched with some force. And our toilet stopped flushing 7 times during the cruise. Each time we reported it, they got it working again, only to have it malfunction again within a day. One evening we had no hot water in the bathroom for a couple of hours. My brother-in-law, next door, did not have any such problems, but his shower also required considerable strength to turn on. I think we will avoid sailing on such a small, old ship in future.
Despite some small disappointments with the cabin, we enjoyed the cruise immensely. This was largely due to the fabulous service. I really don't see how it could have been better! Our cabin stewards, Aan and Gede, were so helpful and efficient. Aan was quick to offer an extension cord when he saw that my husband had a CPAP machine. (I recommend bringing a plug adaptor to convert the European 2-pin outlet to American style. This worked well since we could plug in the CPAP and still have the second, American, outlet available for charging electronics.) Silvia and Claudia at guest services were always gracious. The mealtime staff were great, and I can't speak highly enough of Leah and Ronaldo's drink service, and Jobelle's barista skills. The excellent service really made this cruise for us.
This was our first experience with not having a set dining time, and it worked very well for us. A couple of times we had to wait maybe three minutes for the size of table we wanted. Most of the time we walked right in. The main dining room food and service were very good. We ate at the Lido a couple of nights, and felt the MDR dinner food was much better. The Lido was fine for breakfast and lunch. My BIL ordered room service several times and said it was good. We had one dinner at the Pinnacle Grill, and it was excellent. We also did the evening at Le Cirque. Although we all enjoyed it, I wouldn't necessarily do it again due to the limited menu and the upcharge. My husband thought Le Cirque was worth the price, though.
The only area where we really noticed cutbacks from previous cruises was in the Lido. One morning, a server briefly circulated with coffee refills. Other than that single occasion, we always had to fetch our own coffee, juice, water, etc., and we were never asked if we wanted soda, wine or cocktails. Glasses and cups were filled by a server at the beverage stations even after the initial 48-hour Code Red expired, and we usually had to wait for several minutes to get beverages. During the initial Code Red, all water was served in tiny juice glasses, so it was hard to get properly hydrated. We were relieved when larger drinking glasses appeared after the Code Red ended, although I still don't understand why they weren't used from the beginning. We also missed the variety of Indonesian and Asian dishes which we previously enjoyed in the HAL Lido.
Onboard entertainment was very good. We attended several activities and lectures, all well conducted. Party planner Sydney did a great job. Singer Phillippa and Piano Man Lee were highly entertaining. The gym was well equipped and never crowded. We also enjoyed the ports very much. Oddly, ship time changed a couple of times, but was still never in sync with local time, which made it a little difficult to coordinate port activities. On our previous cruises, the ship always kept local time. I don't see the point in adjusting ship time if it's still going to be different than local time.
At Cozumel, we did a ship-sponsored clear kayak and snorkel excursion to Chankanaab Park. This activity was very well organized. Our guide at Chankanaab, Gizmo, couldn't have been better. He was so sweet and helpful to the newbies in our group, showed us all the best spots, and was a great advocate for ocean conservation. We noticed less variety of fish and coral than on our previous visit to Chankanaab 10 years earlier, but the snorkeling was still good. The clear kayak was fun, although we couldn't see much except when we were in shade under a pier. We enjoyed an excellent lunch before returning to the ship.
At Roat'n, we were scheduled to tender at Coxen Hole, but switched to docking at Mahogany Bay. The taxi coordinator initially asked $90 roundtrip for three people to West Bay, but agreed on $75. We enjoyed the ride very much, finding this to be one of the most beautiful islands we've ever visited with its palmy beaches, turquoise water, brightly painted houses, and green mountains. West Bay was great. We tried for day passes at Infinity Bay, but none were available. We ended up at Bananarama, which was nice. We enjoyed some of the best walk-in snorkeling we've ever done! The water was warm and perfectly calm, and there were big coral heads in water so shallow, we actually had to seek out deeper water so we wouldn't run aground on the coral. We brought bananas to feed the fish, and one big parrotfish followed us around begging like a dog. We also rented a kayak, hung out on the beach, and had lunch. I got four mosquito bites despite wearing DEET, but none of our party had any trouble with sand fleas. After returning to the port, we enjoyed the shopping, nature trail, and pretty beach at Mahogany Bay. Great day, one of our all-time favorite ports.
At Santo Tom's de Castillo, we did a prearranged tour with Happy Fish. I would recommend it, but I do think they could improve their scheduling and organization. We docked at 7:00, and the tour was supposed to begin at 9:30. We, and several others on the tour, wondered if this was local time. I was not aware in advance that ship time was going to be different, or I would have clarified this ahead of time. So a bunch of us showed up early just in case. Happy Fish told us the tour was set for 10:30 ship time, but they would leave as soon as they had a group assembled. We killed time shopping at the port (best & most unique shopping of the cruise!) and just hanging around, hoping to get started. Well, the tour left exactly as scheduled, and we could see from the organization that there had never been any possibility of leaving earlier. That's fine, but I wish they had been upfront about it, so we could have put our time to better use.
Once the tour finally started, it was excellent. Guatemala was very hot and steamy that March day, so we were happy to have a tour that ran mostly by boat. The bay crossing was scenic, and the Rio Dulce canyon was one of the most beautiful places any of us had ever seen. We were amazed to see U.S. Army gunboats patrolling the river. The whole tour felt very exotic, and very different from any other excursion we have done. The Mayan school village was practically deserted, since the children had been sent home early for Holy Week. This was a surprise to our guide, but she did the best she could. We enjoyed the fish lunch in picturesque Livingston, although it was very late (2:30 our time). At 3:30, we were supposed to walk around Livingston, but our tour group had to protest because we had only one hour till all-aboard, and the bay crossing takes 30 minutes. We all agreed that we would have enjoyed seeing more of Livingston and less of the hot, deserted Mayan school. The tour was great, but would have been even better if it started earlier, provided lunch earlier, and spent more time in Livingston and less in the humid jungle.
At Costa Maya, we were hoping for a setup like Mahogany Bay, since both are cruiseline-owned ports, but there wasn't much to do in the port area except shop and use the pool. There was a bus running to Mahahual for $3 per person. We walked just outside the port gates to the taxi stand and caught a ride for $2 per person with no waiting. Mahahual beach was beautiful. The vendors were pretty aggressive. We enjoyed a nice lunch on the beach before returning to the ship for one last sea day.
Disembarkation was efficient, as usual on HAL. I have only praise for the staff and administration of this cruise. The Ryndam was a little dated despite HAL's best efforts to keep it in repair. Ports and organization were excellent, and service was the best ever. We all enjoyed this cruise very much.